Learning from Daniel Maidman: Day 1

What better way to kick off an art convention than by learning firsthand from one of the top draftsman working today? I had the honor and pleasure of taking Daniel Maidman's class Saturday and Sunday, November 9-10 prior to the actual convention opening.

First off, let's talk about Dan's materials: a 3B graphite pencil (he recommended Staedtler, which is a brand I like but didn't have on hand), a white Prismacolor pencil, and Rives BFK printmaking paper in tan. Like Dan, I love working in graphite and white on toned paper, but I'm used to using my full range of pencils from 4H to 6B (Tombow's my favorite brand), a General's white charcoal pencil (still have no clue why it's called "white charcoal" but whatevs...) and Canson Mi Teintes toned pastel paper. But in the spirit of learning, I picked up more 3B pencils (Faber-Castell was all my store had in stock), white Prismacolors, and the tan Rives BFK.

On Day 1, I noticed I had a hard time deciding what to draw. If you're familiar with Dan's work, you'll know he has a fondness for focusing on torsos or seriously cropping in on just a part of the human body. It's a thing of beauty, but I'm so used to doing faces or the whole body, it took a while for me to remember how to compose a drawing. I kept running out of time and fretting over my mark-making. I had forgotten my cardinal rule of not walking into a session without a clear idea of what I wanted to work on, otherwise I would waste time on indecision, freak out and forget to compose, and generally end up with some lame work. Yeah, so that's pretty much what happened. Nothing to do but take a deep breath, remind myself I know what I'm doing (mostly), and do it.

I can walk you through the exact thought process for each of my drawings here:

Shoulder Study

1. The shoulder. Twenty minute pose and...begin! "Crap...what do I draw? What's interesting?? WWDD?? (What Would Daniel Do??) Gotta hurry and start since there's only twenty minutes but nothing in this pose really interests me! Okay, the shoulder. Yes, interesting highlight on the shoulder - that's manageable in the short time frame." So I was not in love with this piece, but it was a decent start. The two lines in the top left quadrant were from Dan discussing contours with me. I was starting to formulate the idea that contours were one of the major things I wanted to work on these two days, since I've been so rigid in my approach to drawing: blocking it in with straight lines and adhering faithfully to proportions and angles. I realized it was time to loosen up and enjoy the meandering beauty of contour lines.

2. Again only twenty minutes, and I work slowly. The model's pose was great but too much for me to successfully convey in that short time, so I went with his arm. I was experimenting with relying on the negative space as much as the positive to define it. I also tried my hand at hatching and cross-hatching. I think I'm terrible at it and don't see it in my future, much as I admire others' work in this style. Again, not a great piece, but I'm still feeling like I'm wandering through cornfields or tall grasses or anything else that's thick and taller than me and preventing me from getting my bearings.

3. This, I think, was the worst of the lot. I used to love drawing backs, but I felt like there was no landmark to anchor my drawing. That reminds me of something Dan said that's really important (not verbatim): You have to have focal point in your drawing, and the rest of the work will hang off of that. So herewith I sheepishly admit I kind of threw in the towel on this one. I didn't love the pose, and I again attempted even more hatching, which was way worse. But that's okay. I know in the grand scheme of things it's not as horrible a drawing as I think it is (but oh, it's pretty bad). Another important takeaway from this workshop is that we were there to work - not to make pretty pictures. Of course ALL of Dan's pictures were pretty, but that's why he was the instructor, right? So I gave myself permission to figure things out, experiment, and make bad art. As I tell my students, this is the equivalent of musicians practicing their scales or playing the same piece a hundred times: we have to do the hard behind-the-scenes work in order to create a perfect performance at showtime.

4. Last drawing of the day. Throughout the whole day I was trying to mimic Dan's style: light, feathery touch, delicate hatching, limited value range, cropped composition. I still drew a little too small for the space, but I feel like I was able to pull off a decent drawing and a strong finish to the day because of a few realizations: 1) I cannot work with only a 3B pencil. I need the full range of my 4H-6B Tombows. 2) I need a broader value range. I like having darker darks. 3) I already have a style of drawing that's been working for me for years. Don't reinvent the wheel!

There are a few other thoughts that Dan shared that helped me. The guy next to me had a very dramatic, energetic style that was not at all the classical realism I personally strive for - very modern and cool. But Dan pointed out that this guy was an artist because of the aesthetic decisions we make - whether it's to do something, or not to do something - that define us. I knew this but I forgot. In that particular discussion, the artist knew he was proportionally off, but he liked what he'd drawn and decided to keep going. It was a good decision and a great drawing.

Another pointer was that you have to allow for the model being a living, breathing person. It sounds silly and simplistic, but he's got a point. Novices (and some of us non-novices) can get frustrated when the lighting changes because a model shifted. He reminded us that especially in longer poses, the body will naturally begin to relax, whether the model intends it or not, so you have to adjust. If there are key aspects you want to capture in your work, do those first and do them fast.

Lastly, be mindful of the time you have. Knowing whether you have 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or 5 hours will certainly determine how much you can get done, and how finished a piece you can create. Take the time you need to compose the work in your head before you even touch pencil to paper (or brush to canvas). Eric Johnson thankfully came by and slowed me down with the same admonition during a painting session later that week!

Stay tuned for Day 2 of the Daniel Maidman workshop!

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